Zero Talent


At what point will this class begin to actually assist me in my career?


Though worded indelicately, this is a fair question. Students in our college’s career development classes are required to make an appointment and meet with their career coach. I’m very prescriptive about the requirements to receive credit for doing this and if they miss something, they get no credit for the assignment. It’s all or nothing. Seems unnecessarily harsh and I’ve been asked why in a number of different ways.


In a Marketing or Finance class, the learning objectives center around mastery of class related concepts. You need to understand and then display understanding of course related definitions, ideas, theories, and tools. In a career development class, then, it would follow that the learning objectives would center on mastery of behaviors that can lead to securing and being successful in your chosen vocation.


The young man who sent me this question was frustrated. Frustrated because he was given a zero for failing to turn in work before a deadline. Frustrated because he was given a zero for failing to follow instructions. Granted, his frustration was not with himself, but with me since he felt that not only did I not inform him of what was required, but that I was just doing this for my own amusement. He didn’t make an appointment. He waited too long and there weren’t any slots left. So he just showed up for a meeting thinking that would suffice. It didn’t and he got a zero. It happens every semester. It keeps happening to some students in later classes. It will happen again in this class in later semesters. I’ve developed a thick skin.


To answer his question, by requiring students to set AND keep an appointment, arrive on time, be prepared, and participate in the meeting, I am having them display a set of key behaviors that employers value. Reading instructions completely, understanding them, and following them. Managing and scheduling your time. Being prepared and contributing what you bring to the meeting. Contrary to his rant, the instructions, deadlines, and how I would assess their actions were all in the assignment and class announcements; the ones he failed to read!


So how does this experience prepare a student for their career and why do I insist on being so frustrating? Here’s some things the students need to know about work…


Employers hire knowledge and experience, but they promote what you do with it.

In an interview you will be asked questions. Questions that are meant to elicit a story. The story should relate your past experiences and successes to the job the employer wants to fill. You are showing that because you’ve done X in the past, you can do X in the future and that’s important to the position they are trying to fill. Awesome, you did it! You got the job.


If you want to hold your position beyond any probationary period it’s important that realize that once you get the job, what you did in the past no longer matters. All that matters is what you do now. Do you show up on time? Do you get your work done? Can you align with others, collaborate, and contribute to the company’s goals? Do you learn from your mistakes (yes, you will make them)? The fact that in a past job you were the top salesperson now means nothing.


Once you’re here, you’re on your own

Many companies have HR departments that produce fabulous structured onboarding programs. There are workshops, shadowing, and mentoring built in. There’s a timeline and check sheets. But HR doesn’t manage employees. Managers do. And mostly managers are concerned about departmental objectives and metrics. Though it’s not always the case, I’ve seen many instances of new employees who fail because they weren’t on boarded effectively by a manager who felt they had more important things to do. Shame on the employer / manager? Maybe. But shame on the employee as well!


You don’t live at home anymore and momma isn’t at work to tuck you in. Get out of your seat and be curious. If you aren’t assigned a mentor, seek one out. Ask questions in meetings. Volunteer for things. If someone says, can you do this, say yes! And then go figure out how. But mostly, be at work to work. Yes, you might make a few friends, maybe even a significant sweetie. But save that for after work.


What have you done for me lately?

Another thing I’ve seen on more than a few occasions is what academics call the “recency effect”. In other words, my assessment of your performance is influenced by the most recent experience I have with you and/or your performance. So you end up with…he’s great, he’s great, he’s great, I need to fire him. Seriously?? What happened?


Unlike some of your instructors, your boss doesn’t care what you did last month, last week, or in your other class. At work you will hit road blocks. You will have a bad month. And unfortunately, your boss won’t always take into account your entire work history. If you stumble, own it and get past it. Learn and don’t make that mistake again. And for crying out loud, don’t explain your current struggles by saying how awesome you were somewhere else.


Success is summarized in ten simple words: Show up, on time, every day, and bust your ass.

So if you feel lessons 1, 2, and 3 are a bit harsh, maybe unfair, what can you do about it? You just have to show up every day for the next 40+ years and kick ass. Some days you’ll win, some days you’ll lose. If you win more than you lose (by learning from your losses because you’re coachable!) then you get ahead. If you just want “B” handed to you as the right answer and think you’ll move on, well you’re gonna be disappointed.


Woody Allen has been credited with saying that some large percent of life is just showing up. Not sure that he actually said this, but regardless, it’s partially true. The other percent is that once you do you need to be ready to kick ass. But you’ll never know what ass to kick if you don’t read the instructions first!